Acceptance to a choice university in the United States isn’t as simple as filling out the paperwork and walking through the doors. Being accepted into some universities in this country can be very difficult. According to—with rankings based on acceptance rates and SAT/ACT test scores using data from the U.S. Department of Education—these are the five hardest universities to get into in 2019 (topping the list are a handful of usual candidates you’ll recognize.)

1. Harvard University

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Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is the oldest institution of higher education in the United States, and its prestigious status makes it famous (or infamous) for how hard it is to be accepted. It’s been almost 400 years since the university was founded, and the time-tested, revered tradition of tough admission hasn’t affected the institution’s status as a top-tier school. Niche still ranks Harvard as the number three overall best college in the country for 2019.  

Harvard had a slim 4.6 percent acceptance rate in 2018, which is almost half the acceptance rate from a decade earlier.

2. Stanford University

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Stanford University is in California, across the country from Harvard, but it continues to rival Harvard for the university with the lowest acceptance rate in the United States (having a lower acceptance rate percentage in 2014). Stanford has a 5.05 percent acceptance rate for 2019, which is the lowest in the university’s history. This is more than a 1.5 percent drop from 2012 and follows a pattern of increased selectivity in recent years.

Again, this doesn’t seem to stop Stanford from ranking high on the best-of list for universities in the country. Niche ranks Stanford as the number two best college overall in 2019.

3. California Institute of Technology

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The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena has nearly as much established educational history and significance as Stanford (both founded in 1891), but it often doesn’t receive the same first-glance nods of approval simply because it’s not an Ivy League University. However, it was tougher to get into in 2019 than both of the Ivy League schools below.

Caltech has an overall acceptance rate of 8 percent for 2019, with under 7,500 students being accepted, and SAT scores for acceptance are higher on average than both Yale and Princeton. Unfortunately, Caltech didn’t make Niche’s top-five list of best colleges in 2019.

4. Yale University

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Another East Coast school, Connecticut's Yale University has almost 200 years on Stanford in terms of being founded earlier (still shy of Harvard by more than 60 years), and like fine wine, it continues to make the rounds in discussion at high-society tables. The university is among the top schools in terms of academic and social prestige, and the Yale University Library (with its more than 15 million volumes) is one of the largest in the country. Yale ranked fourth in Niche’s best-of list for 2019.

Yale’s acceptance rate actually rose from 6.26 percent in 2018 to 6.49 percent in 2019. It’s not much of a bump, but at this level of higher education, any shift is worth noting.

5. Princeton University

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Princeton University, Harvard, and Yale are the three oldest Ivy League universities in the United States, so it’s no surprise (based on the pattern here) that Princeton makes the top five list of hardest universities to attend. Also in-line with the pattern, Princeton ranks fifth on Niche’s best-of list for 2019.

Princeton rivals Harvard and Stanford’s low acceptance rate with a mere 5.5 percent of students being accepted in 2018, but the school’s graduation rate reaches 97 to 98 percent on average.

The Hardest Schools to Get into Are Not the Best in 2019

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It may be a surprise that the best university overall to attend in 2019 (according to Niche’s rankings) is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which would have been the sixth college on this list! Maybe avoiding top five hardest-to-get-into exclusivity helped it rank higher on the best-of list for 2019.

The funny thing about the difficulty of admission for each university listed above is that the exclusivity is often part of the appeal. Being admitted to Harvard or Stanford is an instant “I made the cut” badge of honor, and some would say that’s well worth the academic and mental price of admission.

Looking for something a little easier and less exclusive? Here are 15 of the easiest colleges in the United States to get—chances are tuition won’t be quite as expensive.